Simulating Five Scenarios for the Western Balkans

Possible scenarios for the Western Balkans EU future by 2030

13 May 2022

The lands of the Western Balkans are in a historical transition.

The challenges faced by the Western Balkans in the early years have significantly stimulated uncertainty and insecurity in relation to the integration of these countries into the larger European family, with its hopes for political, security and economic stability.

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The following are five possible scenarios for the future of the Western Balkans by 2030, with a view to its integration into the European Union. These scenarios are being elaborated by enthusiastic political analysts, observers and journalists within the framework of the project ‘Western Balkans – Developing Regional Trajectories,’ which is part of the International Visegrad Fund’s ‘Western Balkans Identities’ programme.

Forced Integration

The first scenario is Forced Integration, which foresees the possibility of a change of the source borders of the member states of the European Union. This includes the military invasion of Russia by Ukraine, which was accompanied by increased military cooperation with the Belarusian state on the one hand, and on the other hand the Chinese economic and infrastructural expansion on the European continent, especially on the lands of the Western Balkans. In this case, the latter would cause inexorable stimulants for better integration of the Western Balkan countries into the European Union, including the Republic of North Macedonia, thus stopping the threats in the internal contexts of the Western Balkan countries.

Considering that, as an alternative to democratic processes in other Western Balkan countries, authoritarian profiles are emerging in the horizons of possible options, the European Union represents a kind of basic model of hope and purpose. In this respect, the ambitions of this scenario would be the consolidation of democratic and political stability, which would be committed to investing in and creating strategies with the participation of all the countries concerned in the opposition. 

One of these countries is represented by young people, who have been and continue to be in an important position in the past period. It is believed that as long as the other Western Balkan countries become members of the EU, the degree of security will increase significantly. Hence the need for strategies that would also help in strengthening the integrity of the political systems and building institutions that the citizens trust.

Bleak Future

The second scenario, called Bleak Future, represents the pessimistic scenario. At the core of this scenario are foreseen the unfinished projects of democratisation in other countries, and the non-reformation of the justice system with essential elements. The decimation represents a high obstacle not only for the potential of the Western Balkan countries to join the EU, here also for the quality of life and the administration of justice within the country, and for the unities in everyday life. 

You see, as it were: the enslaved state, corruption, clientelism and nepotism would continue with an unbridled repetitiveness which would also open opportunities for political regression in the work of democratisation and justice, but also the other domains of political and social life.

This scenario can also be called an unknown future, taking into account the elements of political and economic impasse as a consequence of non-integration in the European Union project. What is known, according to this scenario, is the status quo moment, which would also affect the environmental perspective of these other countries with a slower implementation of the energy policies established by the European Green Treaty. 

These components clearly point to an increase in the increase of the gap between the Western Balkan countries and the European Union in the fields of politics, justice and environment, and thus to a reduction of the possibility for these countries to integrate and враќање in gender positions.

Unattainable Europeanisation

The third scenario is called Unattainable Europeanisation. The disagreement between the European Union and the Central European countries (mainly Hungary and Poland), will stimulate the concentration of energy in these countries, and thus less investment of the European Union in the direction of opening up opportunities for integration of the Western Balkan countries. 

In this way, a democratic establishment is developing in the Western Balkan countries and the European Union, which has a negative impact on the conditions of the Western Balkan countries. The media and economic structures are particularly involved in this. 

The former, whose co-owners are local oligarchs and in good coordination with the leaders of the political parties, will reduce the objective prism of publicity in line with the political reality. With this, the decline in interest in EU membership is being compounded by the affirmations of illiberal agents such as China, Russia, Turkey and the Western countries. In economic terms, these trends are distancing the region from the EU, and with it the economic convergence of the two countries is smaller and more distant.

This scenario points to four reasons why the region would become democratic. A new pandemic, a reduction in social trust and an incentive for local authorities to take more restrictive measures in the interest of public health, and thus to regulate and empower institutions for repressive action. The gap between non-governmental organisations and the citizens is widening. 

This is the consequence of the existence of conspiracy theories and the perverted logic of assurances, which is also traced to corruption scandals. Thus, non-governmental organisations lose relevance in the eyes of the establishment. The status of NGOs is not only weakened in the eyes of the citizens, but also in the eyes of the authorities and institutions whose intention is to control the urban sector.

If the possibilities for membership of the EU are not completely closed, however, the criteria for the rule of law, economic freedom and the protection of human rights are very strict, so that it becomes impossible for the Western Balkan countries to start negotiations with the EU and to close them with final membership in the Union.

This scenario foresees that instability will grow, human rights will be under threat and autocratic and populist regimes will consolidate.

Defragmentation of Western Balkans

The fourth scenario is entitled Defragmentation of the Western Balkans. In the essence of this scenario, the increased economic cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans. This cooperation has the potential to reduce the disagreements between the other countries of the region and to overcome the conflicting initiatives that are taking place in the region at the moment. 

This work will not remain only in an economic sense and will not be blind to the harms of the European Union, on the contrary, it will strengthen the optimism of the future and the improvement of the conditions for a higher degree of realisation of human rights and the rule of law will lead to a kind of debalkanisation of the political situation.

The above-mentioned thesis is supported by the fact that it also undermines the dangerous tendencies to reactualise conflicts (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo), The blockades in North Macedonia and the possible implications of the international plan, however, the other countries of the Western Balkans are not developing tendencies towards economic isolation both within themselves and within the EU. Thus fragmentation is in itself a danger both for the Western Balkan countries and for the EU in the same country. 

Hence, the Western Balkans, according to this scenario, is seen as a kind of ‘integrated economic union,’ while the EU on the other hand represents a centre of economic gravity, and the learning of these countries in the European Union would be a logical consequence of economic learning. Thus, the economic influence of countries such as Russia and Turkey would be limited, and in certain sectoral dominations considerably reduced.


The fifth scenario is called Friendship. This scenario foresees the seizure of joint strategic initiatives of the authorities of the Western Balkan countries and the urban organizations in the direction of collective action in relation to the pressing problems faced by the countries and the region. Among other things, this includes climate change, the degradation of the environment and paralysed economies. 

This cooperation should address the problems outlined above, but also stimulate democratic ambition to solve and overcome the larger historical and identity, as well as poverty, problems layered with the history of the Western Balkan countries.

What logically brings this scenario to light is the contextual picture that portrays these potentials as valid. The ecological problems in the Western Balkans, the pandemics with COVID-19 are one of the biggest challenges for the Western Balkan countries. These are the elements of the mosaic that make the position of these other countries even more vulnerable to external influences. In this scenario, the Western Balkan region is challenged by various external influences and factors. 

This forces the leaders of the other countries to start a kind of pragmatic unity in order to face the challenges. Over time, transnational integration is taking place, stimulating pro-democratic tendencies and the possibility of integration in the EU.

Hilarious Glimpses

According to what has been said, four of the five scenarios carry an optimistic tone of possible future developments in the political climate of the Western Balkan countries. Guided by the arts immersed in the surroundings, which sound with a holistic pessimistic resonance, the first thing that comes to mind is that of these scenarios, perhaps the second one would be the most relevant, and so on. 

A gloomy future. This is, by the way, the scenario that is lived by many people and according to which the parameters for the possible future are set. Even if we consider this scenario as a point in time, it is not always the past, whether near or far, that conditions it and paralyses the activity in the present and the change of the future.

I would say that the future would be some combination of the five variations that have been presented in the past. It can be said that the third and fourth scenarios are logical and pragmatic in their proximity, in terms of fairness, operational follow-up and the need for action. As the very focus of the Union becomes the internal harmonisation with the other Central European Member States, which from time to time has been the balance of democratic unity, the racialisation of energy capacities and the self-perception and self-regulation of the European Union, new possibilities will open up. 

The third scenario foresees the continuation of agony and status quo in political and democratic sense, due to the inexorability of the European Union to incorporate new member states and the possibility of working with side profiles like Russia and China. Moreover, the economic efficiency for the reparation and restructuring of the economic prospects of the Western Balkan countries. If the logical association points to an alternative, mainly with the Russian Federation, Mexico, etc. 

The defragmentation of the string of economic syntheses of the structural economies of the Western Balkan countries could be a starting point and a regional reintegration. In this direction, the stimulation of solidarity in the direction of overcoming the problems not only with the economy and national myths in official international cooperation but also opening space for the environmental, health and welfare prospects of these countries. This will in some ways maintain economic stability, restructure production and market relations.

The first scenario has a high probability, but it is linked to the development of the Ukrainian situation and possible military disruptions, with a potential domino effect. The destabilisation of the Western Balkan region is one of the priorities of the European Union, which is really a backup plan that leaves the Western Balkan countries in a state of continuous disappearance. 

As long as the honourable premise of this scenario is considered, which is a proliferation of military activities and the possibility of re-levelling the war, in this case, membership of the EU will not significantly change the internal ambition of the Western Balkan countries. 

On the other hand, and according to the efficiency and effectiveness of the European Union in its management of the crisis in Ukraine and the accession of other Western Balkan countries, it can be said to be far below the required level of efficiency and effectiveness.

The original of this article was published at

This article is part of the Western Balkans Futures project supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

Photo: Council of the European Union Newsroom

Mariglen Demiri

Mariglen Demiri is a researcher at Eurothink -Center for European Strategies since July 2021. Mariglen holds a BA in Philosophy and MA Contemporary Philosophy from Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje. He previously worked as project coordinator and Researcher at the European Policy Institute – Skopje (EPI) from 2015 to 2017, and at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities – Skopje from 2017 to 2021. He is the author and co-author of several publications and analyzes in the field of labor rights, gender policies, culture, history and philosophy. He is a founder and member of many political movements and organizations such as Lenka, Solidarnost, Student Plenum and Protestiram.


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